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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I've got a commercial shoot happening next week. Although a lot of my work is editorial assignment and stock photography I find that my style of imagery tends to work well for commercial clients in the travel industry.

Anyway I hate to go into a photo shoot blind, whether it's one for myself or a client, so yesterday I took a 3 hour round trip to check out the site and just work out my bearings.

Scouting is a really good use for those times of the day when the light is no good for photography, or on the days when the weather isn't co-operating. Rather than feeling you have to get out to take a photograph, cut yourself some slack and consider this scouting time. You can leave the camera behind if you like, or if you feel compelled then just take a minimum amount of gear.

When you are scouting there are a few things you want to be looking for. The first thing is direction. I have a compass built into my watch so the very first thing I do is check out which direction East (for sunrise) is and West (for sunset) is. This helps me plan a schedule. There's no point getting up early to photograph a famous building if it faces West.

Another thing you want to look out for is unusual vantage points. Anybody can shoot a scene from tripod height standing in the middle of a tourist lookout. See if you can find somewhere unusual to place your camera - think up high, down low, off to the side. I often look for hills that look down on the scene I want to photograph.

For landscapes you might want to look for the best place to be for an interesting composition, keeping an eye out for leading lines, trees etc that you can use as frames. Resist the temptation to shoot anything during the scouting trip unless the light is fantastic. Remind yourself that you're just here to find a good place to come back to when the light is wonderful.

Especially with landscape photography scouting really helps because often when you're up to photograph sunrise you're wandering around in the dark. If you've been there during the day you'll have a much better idea of where you want to be and won't have to stumble around in the pitch black wondering if you're in a good spot or not.

Anyway the scouting trip was really useful. I was able to work out that there's no point getting my models out there early because everything faces west so they'd all be backlit in the morning. There's also a lot of reflections inside the buildings so I'm going to need to bring some black cloth to darken everything. And I managed to work out a time line to keep everything going smoothly during the day.

Oh and the shot at the top is an example of the result of scouting. The canal in Otaru is one of the city's most famous sites. I had been there at high noon to take a look and just see where might be a nice place to take a shot from. The blue time of day is over very quickly, sometimes you only get 10 or so minutes, so I knew I needed to be in exactly the right place before the beautiful light appeared. Scouting gave me the reassurance that I could walk straight to a good position and just wait for the light to do its thing.

So if you're ever wondering what to do when the light is no good for photography, go and scout some good places to put yourself when the light will be fantastic.

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